Geeked on Golf


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THE PAST MEETS THE FUTURE AT MOSHOLU

How a new generation is contributing to the revival of public golf in its American birthplace

If Ed Brockner had been alive in 1888, he would have been in the Apple Tree Gang. In the spring of that year, Scotsman John Reid and two of his friends played the first recorded round of golf in a pasture near Reid’s house in Yonkers, NY. The group would take on the ATG moniker when they relocated to a larger playing field that included a tree where they hung their coats. Spend any time with Brockner, and you will feel the depth of his passion for the game and its original pure form. It is not hard to imagine him hanging his coat to complete Reid’s foursome.

Early golfers at play in Yonkers

Brockner attended Yale University where he played on the golf team and then served as a volunteer assistant after graduation. He knew that he wanted to work in the golf business but didn’t yet have a clear path to take. The Golf Course at Yale is a Seth Raynor design that is of historic and architectural significance, attracting a steady stream of designers and aficionados to play and study it. One of those visitors was Gil Hanse, who gave a talk attended by Brockner. Intrigued by architecture and construction, he landed a spot on Hanse’s crew working on projects including the creation of Boston Golf Club. Through that work, he would find his way to a site not far from where the Apple Tree Gang roamed the fields, and an opportunity to help reinvigorate public golf in the place where it was born.

A Game for the Masses

By 1892, John Reid and his pals had moved on from pasture golf to form the private Saint Andrew’s Golf Club, which would become one of the five founding members of the USGA. In Yonkers and the Bronx, they left behind a rapidly growing contingent of players who were organizing into their own groups and jockeying for the scarce open green space to play their infectious new sport. One such lot was the Mosholu Golf Club (aka the Riverdale Group) led by T. McClure Peters, who lobbied the NYC Parks Commission to use part of Van Cortlandt Park to lay out their own course. The Commission agreed that the land could be used for golf, but mandated that it be open to all, resulting in the creation of the first public golf course in America.

Clearing stones to create the golf course at Van Cortlandt Park

Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course began as a nine-holer and was originally laid out by the players. The first eight holes were each under 200 yards—the ninth measured 700+ yards. Van Cortlandt’s routing epitomized golf before enculturated standards. The popularity of the game and lack of structure at the course produced growing pains that the city turned to Tom Bendelow to solve. Known as the “Johnny Appleseed of American Golf” for his cross-country tour to lay out courses sponsored by the Spalding Sporting Goods Company, Bendelow also managed Van Cortlandt and oversaw its expansion to eighteen holes. The volume of public play continued to increase, ultimately necessitating the building of a second course on adjacent land, aptly named Mosholu Golf Course.

Mosholu Reborn

Over the ensuing decades, the city’s Bronx courses had their ups and downs, to say the least. The decision to renovate Mosholu in 2004 was a solid step toward building a brighter future for the game in New York. It seems fitting that a golf renaissance man like Ed Brockner would arrive at that moment in the birthplace of public golf to assist with its rebirth, both reimagining Mosholu and fostering the area’s nascent First Tee chapter.

During his time and travels at Yale and then with Hanse Design, Brockner had seen much of the greatest golf architecture in the country. He had also become convinced of two simple principles that he would apply to Mosholu’s renovation. First, high-quality, interesting design does not have to cost more than the bland, boring alternative. Second, the best way to get beginners excited about the game is to expose them to it on a playing field that is filled with a wide variety of great features and challenges to navigate. Players might not care about the origins or design intent of a redan or biarritz, but they appreciate cool and fun when they see it—especially kids.

Mosholu’s nine holes deliver, at an affordable price, on both of Brockner’s principles. The course is practical to maintain, but packed with interest on rolling land in the midst of a bustling urban setting. A full tee sheet and smiles on players’ faces are proof that refusing to settle for the mundane pays off. Municipalities around the country, take note.

The Bronx biarritz at Mosholu

Building More Than Courses

Since those early days, the First Tee of Metropolitan New York has expanded to five facilities, including the successfully renovated Weequahic in New Jersey. As the organization’s Executive Director, Brockner continues to search the metro area for more opportunities to expand the organization’s reach. “I am a builder,” he said, “and I love the development part of the job.” When it comes to golf courses and architecture, he can geek out with the best of them. It is quite evident, however, that involvement with the First Tee kids touches his heart as powerfully as design stimulates his mind.

For fifteen years, the program has been producing success stories. One of those stories belongs to Olivia Sexton, a bright young student who described her experience in a speech she delivered eloquently at an organization event:

“Whenever I tell anyone that I play golf, I get raised eyebrows. I don’t look like the typical golfer – I am from the Bronx, I’m a girl and I’m black. If it weren’t for the First Tee, I would have never discovered my love for a game that is elusive to people of my socio-economic background…The First Tee has also taught me life skills that will stick with me forever. The program has nine core values that are taught to us and I use these in every aspect of my life. They include honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, and confidence which help me as I grow, handle relationships, problem-solving and whatever else comes my way…More recently, the First Tee has been able to help me prepare for the future. As I am entering my junior year of high school, I have to start preparing for college, and they have been able to help a tremendous amount. Through both donations and offers, we have been able to visit some of the Ivy League Schools including Yale and Princeton…Because of the First Tee, I have a very planned out future. After high school, I plan on going to college (maybe play golf), majoring in Biology or Chemistry, then going to medical school, and eventually becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Once I have my career intact, I also plan on giving back to the First Tee by donating to help with more outreach opportunities, so kids with my socio-economic background can be exposed to such a wonderful sport.”

At his office at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx, Ed Brockner may be a world away from New Haven or the exclusive fairways of places like Boston Golf Club, but he has clearly found his place. He is building facilities that play an inspirational role in the current community golf revival that is unfolding across this country. But more importantly, he is using the game of golf as a foundation on which to build the lives of young people like Olivia Sexton. Growing the game is great. Changing lives through it—it doesn’t get any better.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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MY MUSINGS ON GOLF

If you are reading this blog, and you are not my wife or parents, it still surprises me a little that you are here.  When I started GeekedOnGolf, I didn’t expect that it would ever be more than a collection of musings about my rediscovery of the game 20 years after my junior playing days ended.

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My boys with Luke Donald at Canal Shores

With Adventures, Resources, Interviews, and more, the scope of the site has expanded greatly into a broader celebration of what’s great in the game.  Jon Cavalier, Simon Haines, Kyle Truax, Peter Korbakes, and my other collaborators have added quality and depth by lending their talents and perspective.

What began as a “me thing” has become a “we thing”, and GeekedOnGolf is so much better as a result.  Although the focus of the site has changed, I will continue to share periodic musings and index them all here. Thank you for visiting, and indulging my geekery. I hope that we get a chance to tee it up some day.


MOST RECENT MUSINGS

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’RE LIKE

A line is crossed when one drives a long way to play a golf course. Most of us have a course close by that is good enough to conveniently scratch the itch when it arises. Exerting the effort to road trip signals a focus shift from our own play to the experience of the playing field, which adds a dimension to the game. An even brighter line is crossed when one boards a plane, clubs in tow. My son Jack crossed that line for the first time this year on a trip to Aiken, SC, and I had the pleasure and privilege of being his partner in adventure. Read more…


MORE MUSINGS

MORE MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

While listening to a podcast with Ron Whitten, long-time architecture editor with Golf Digest, I was struck by how similar his early experience of falling in love with the game’s playing fields was to my own. Read more…

MUSINGS ON OUR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

The internet produced a variety of strong reactions to the Open at Shinnecock.  Some were well-reasoned and others were hyperbolic in the extreme.  Setting reactions aside, following are my musings on what we’ve learned, and where America’s governing body might go from here with our National Championship.  Read more…

GEEK DAD’S DIARY – PART 1 (THE BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT)

There is joy to be found in many places in this great game, but nothing mainlines it for me quite like enjoying golf time with my kids.  It brings me back to happy days, learning the game with my dad and grandpa, while simultaneously pulling me intensely into the present moment the way that few things can.  Read more…

MUSINGS ON GREENKEEPING

These musings are not exactly about greenkeeping.  I know only enough to be dangerous.  What I do know with certainty is that a Golf Course Superintendent’s job is hard.  Read more…

MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

First things first – there is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to assessing the greatness of a golf course.  And objectivity in ranking one golf course’s greatness versus another?  Please.  Fortunately though when it comes to having good geeky fun with your buddies talking golf courses, objectivity is irrelevant.  What is relevant when having the endless discussions and debates is the standards by which one assesses a course.  Read more…

THE YEAR THAT THE GOG TOUR ENDED

That title has a sad tone to it, but 2017 was anything but a sad year for my golf.  In fact, it was the most fulfilling year of my golfing life.  Read more…

2016 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

A pattern seems to be developing.  As I watch the snow fall out my window, I reflect back and think, “It can’t get any better than this year’s golf tour.”  And then the next year comes around, and it does.  That was the story of 2016.  Just when I thought golf adventuring couldn’t get any better, it did.  Read more…

2015 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

What a year.  I took the madness to another level this year, playing 49 different golf courses in 11 different states.  34 of those golf courses were first time plays.  As an indication of the quality of the 2015 golf adventure, I would make a point and an effort to go back to 33 of the courses.  Read more…

WILSON & ME

I have always been a Wilson guy at heart.  I started with Wilson Golf clubs, and I suspect that that is where I will finish.  As Wilson has had its ups and downs, I have watched with interest even when I was not playing golf.  Read more… 

NEW YEAR’S SHIFT

Having a day-at-a-time paradigm, the whole New Year’s thing doesn’t typically do it for me.  It has been a long time since I made a New Year’s resolution.  My wife’s enthusiasm for the holiday is influencing me this year, and even though there are still no resolutions forthcoming, I do feel compelled to share a shift I am making for 2015.  Read more…

MY BUCKET LIST – U.S. OPEN VENUES

Goal setting is important. Having a goal has a tendency to enhance motivation and focus, and increase the likelihood of achievement. In my early career, I was extremely goal oriented and meticulous in my goal setting. My colleagues ribbed me about it and asserted that my approach would not survive the arrival of children. I scoffed at the time, but it turns out they were right.  Read more…

2014 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

The leaves and the first snow have fallen in Chicago.  My golf calendar looks as desolate as the landscape for the remainder of this year.  It’s a good time to revisit the wonderful courses I was privileged to play in 2014.  Those memories will be enough to take me through the winter.  Read more…

WANT TO IMPROVE PACE OF PLAY?  START FIRING GOLFERS

The USGA has been studying pace of play extensively and sharing results at their Symposium.  They are amassing data that promises to help course operators improve “flow”.  Additionally, technological innovations like smart flags, GPS-enabled carts, and others will track players and help them keep the pace.  Read more… 

SHORT GAME GAME PLAN

One of the factors contributing to the variance between my current index and scratch is inconsistent wedge play.  I estimate that I’m leaving 2 shots on the course every round.  In reflecting on my short game, it occurs to me that part of the issue is a lack of commitment to one approach.  Read more…

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS

Meditation, gardening and golf have commonalities that draw me to them.  Over coffee, a friend was recently telling me about his new meditation practice.  He had experienced moments of real peace and quiet in his mind, and he was excited about continuing forward.  Read more…

MAKING IT RIGHT IS ALRIGHT WITH ME

Having been a leader of sales and customer service teams for years, I accept that no company services its customers perfectly all the time.  Certain situations are complicated and certain customers are difficult to please.  And to top it off, we all have moments and make mistakes.  Therefore, maintaining a standard of perfect service that always keeps customers happy is not possible.  Read more…

2013 GEEKED ON GOLF TOUR

2013 was the year that my reconnection to the game of golf took on a whole new dimension.  I was given the gift of a lesson with Butch Harmon in Las Vegas in the spring, as well as other rounds for my 40th birthday.  To my delight, the birthday celebration seemed to go on all year.  Read more…

END OF SEASON WRAP-UP

This weekend was the final session of the season with my coach, Scott Baines.  We took some time to recap progress made, and to discuss work to be done during the offseason.  2014 was the second year of my work with Scott.  We have “mastery” goals focused on my full swing, wedge and short game, and putting.  Read more…

FROM PUTT PUTT TO PUNCHBOWL – REMEMBERING THE POINT OF THE GAME

It’s easy to forget the object of the game of golf. It’s not perfect mechanics.  It’s not 300 yard drives.  It’s not money, FedEx points, trophies, or the latest greatest equipment.  It’s not handicap indexes to playing from the tips.  Every one of these things is a part of today’s golf, but none of them is the object of the game.  Read more…

A SLIP OF THE MIND, AND IT SLIPPED THROUGH MY FINGERS

I’m standing on the 17th tee at Kingsley Club, with one of my biggest golf goals in hand – I am 1-under and just two holes away from breaking par for the first time since I was 18.  The thought of achieving that milestone, as well as telling my coach about it, crossed my mind and lingered for a moment.  Read more…

COMING FULL CIRCLE

Standing on the 16th green at Old Elm Club, looking back down the long, rolling fairway with the sunlight filtering through the trees, I remembered why I loved this game so much.  I had been invited by my good friend Brian to join him at Old Elm even though I wasn’t really playing golf at the time.  He needed a fourth, and he knew that I grew up caddying and playing this marvelous little Donald Ross course in the north shore suburbs of Chicago.  Read more…

Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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The Revival – Community Golf in America

There is a movement afoot.  Across the country, from Goat Hill to the Schoolhouse Nine, from Sharp Park to Winter Park, there are a growing number of community golf projects getting attention and serious support.

I have experienced the vibe of this movement first-hand as I work with folks from the game and my fellow volunteers to transform Canal Shores.  The enthusiastic response to our efforts has been humbling and inspiring.  This energy took on a new dimension recently as media coverage of our project has increased, particularly from the Global Golf Post article by Jim Nugent.

Admittedly, I was a bit surprised at the magnitude of feedback, and it got me to thinking – what is happening here and why is it so impactful for so many people?

The first place I went looking for answers was within the projects themselves.  There are similarities among them, but there are also significant differences.  Are there common threads that are universally resonant?  Mike McCartin, architect of the Schoolhouse Nine defined several principles for his facility: inclusiveness, architectural interest and fun.  A solid list to be sure, to which I would add sustainability.

These are just words though.  What do they mean on the ground?  From my own experience and from what I have observed, I would translate the principles as follows:

Inclusiveness – People are communal by nature, but we also need our personal space.  Where boundaries provide us comfort,  barriers produce a sense of confinement and isolation.  At its inception, golf was not a game played behind walls.  It was a game that was played at the community center, respectfully intermingled with other community activities.  The new wave of community golf projects revive the spirit of inclusiveness by integrating with their surroundings and embracing a multi-use approach to recreation.  From a golf perspective, they also foster inclusiveness by promoting play of all ages and skill levels.

Architectural Interest – In creative endeavors, the difference between good and great is often attention to detail and a refusal to settle.  Golf architecture and maintenance are no different than any other creative endeavor.  Players may not know much about GCA, but they know great when they see it.  It is evident to all when someone cares about their work.  The architects, superintendents and operators within this movement are clearly unwilling to settle for less than the best that their budgets will allow.

Fun – The game of golf is the greatest form of recreation ever invented.  If the experience of golf relentlessly beats players down though, it can hardly be considered recreation.  Plain and simple, to recreate, players need fun.  Challenge and exercise are wonderful, but without fun, what is the point?  These community golf courses are bringing back the fun of the game, much of which has been lost in the chase after “championship” golf.

Sustainability – This word has been used so widely as to be nearly meaningless.  For community golf, a more narrow definition is appropriate.  In order to be embraced by its community, a golf course must be in harmony with its surroundings and ecologically responsible.  It must also be operated and maintained in such a manner as to be economically viable.  There is a fine line between a valuable community resource, and an unsustainable burden.  The courses in this new movement are working mindfully and diligently to make sustainability more than an empty platitude.

These principles are powerful, but they do not fill in all of the blanks.  I went looking for answers next in my own experience.  Although golf took hold for me during my caddie days at Old Elm Club, that is not where I originally learned to play.

My first exposure to golf was playing with my dad and grandpa on the Fort Sheridan Army Base course near my home.  The base and course no longer exist, but my memories remain.  The Fort Sheridan course wound through the base among the barracks and military hardware.  My dad would drop my ball at the 100 yard marker, and I would play in with a sawed-off 9 iron and putter.  On those afternoons, experiencing “guys time” and the thrill of the ball disappearing into the hole, I fell in love with the game.

Old Elm was the place where my mind was opened to just how special golf can be when played over a course created by men like Colt and Ross, but it was on the scruffy links of Fort Sheridan that the game captured my heart.

Perhaps that is why it strikes me that this community golf movement is a revival.  It is a revival of the Scottish spirit of the game, embodying the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun, and sustainability.  More powerfully though, it is a revival of the love in each of our hearts.  The first love that was born the day that we initially experienced the feeling of a well-struck shot and a ball falling into the cup.

What’s your take?  As I explore The Revival further, I’d love to hear from you.  Share your thoughts, feelings, and observations in the comments below.


Going forward, much of my focus here will be on following The Revival as it takes shape.  I will profile the courses, and interview the revivalists who are breathing new life into community golf in America – the champions, the architects, the players.  Stay tuned for much more to come.

THE COURSES

Community golf is getting more airtime thanks to Matt Ginella and others.  Golf Channel video links are available on my GCA video page.

This is the YouTube channel that I have created to track these course and the various revival projects taking place around the country:

 

I have also started to compile a map of community golf courses that are attempting to uphold the principles of inclusiveness, architectural interest, fun and sustainability.  Is your favorite community course helping to revive the spirit of the game?  Let me know about it so that I can add it to the map (and the hit list to visit).

THE REVIVALISTS

There are some truly talented folks giving their time, energy and expertise to these community golf courses.  Their passion for reviving the spirit of the game is inspiring.

This is an exciting time for the game of golf.  Please join me in supporting the Revival by spreading the word about these courses, and the people who are working hard to make them thrive.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf